By Earle Hitchner
BEGINISH and TONY McMANUS, Towne Crier Cafe, 62 Rte. 22, Pawling, N.Y.
This was an inspired co-bill of Celtic music, one of many at the Towne Crier Cafe, a club that has increased its bookings of such artists as it nears its 27th anniversary of operation.
Opening was Tony McManus, a 34-year-old guitarist born in Paisley, Scotland. Playing a six-string, he nimbly picked out ornaments associated with the feel and flavor of the highland bagpipes on "Irene Meldrum’s Welcome to Bon Accord/Hecla/The Ramnee Ceilidh," a march-strathspey-reel progression that is a hallmark of Scotland’s musical tradition.
Switching from flatpicking to fingerpicking, McManus gave a delicate, beautifully shaded rendition of "Theidh mi dhachaigh Chro Chinn t-Saile" ("I Will Go Home to the Cattle-Fold of Kintail"), a song melody. Using a plectrum again, he snapped off in a controlled fever "The Easy Club Reel/Janine’s Reel," both composed by Scots percussionist Jim Sutherland.
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Toward the end of his short, impressive set, McManus threw in a delightful surprise, playing in a bluesy contemplative manner the melody to "What a Wonderful World," a hit song for Louis Armstrong in 1968. Without missing a beat, he then shifted into two reels, "Charlie Hunter’s" and "The Humors of Tulla," that displayed fleet-fingered precision.
Together since 1996, Beginish is a standout quartet performing music frequently drawn from Kerry and Donegal. Polkas and such Sliabh Luachra slides as "The Bicycle/An Bóthar ó Thuaidh" crackled with energy, driven along by Brendan Begley’s C#/D button accordion. Begley on melodeon, Paul O’Shaughnessy on fiddle, Paul McGrattan on flute, and Noel O’Grady on bouzouki also leaned into three jigs from the Blasket Islands and a medley comprising a hornpipe, "Dublin Reel," and "Noon Lassies."
McGrattan’s solo on "Easter Snow," closely linked to Finglas uilleann piper Séamus Ennis, evoked all the emotion contained in that slow air, while O’Shaughnessy’s solo on a pair of highlands followed immediately
by the reels "Nine Pint Coggie" and "Donegal Traveler" was fiddling at its finest.
Other dance tunes — "The Plough and the Stars/The Kilfenora Reel/Maids of Galway/McGoldrick’s," "Kiss the Maid Behind the Bar/The Broken Pledge/The Wild Irishman," "King of the Pipers" — flowed with equal force from these four musicians.
Begley’s heartfelt vocal on "The Rose of Aranmore" and some songs in Irish expertly rounded out Beginish’s spirited, frill-free set. It was hard-core traditional playing and straightforward singing done with
admirable dedication by one of Ireland’s most accomplished bands.